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COURT OF APPEALS



Published: Sat, May 13, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DEBORA SHAULIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

HE NEW 7TH DISTRICTCourt of Appeals building in Youngstown isn't only making local history, but taking historical cues from its former home in Mahoning County Courthouse.

Mahoning County continues to be the home of the appellate court, which serves eight Ohio counties. Workers will report Monday to a new courthouse at 131 W. Federal St., downtown.

An official dedication and open house are planned June 16, with a keynote address by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.

Courts of appeals review the judgments of trial courts at the municipal, county and common pleas court levels and affirm, modify or reverse those decisions.

The new courthouse reflects both the court's need for elbow room and its 94-year history here.

Jurisdiction of the 7th District court was established in 1912, roughly the same time that the Mahoning County Courthouse was built at Market and Boardman streets, said Judge Gene Donofrio, the appellate court's presiding judge.

The appellate court could be located anywhere in its territory, but "The largest city and the largest county in our district was a fitting place," Judge Donofrio said.

Reason for construction

Expansion was the driving force behind the construction of a new courthouse.

Judge Donofrio said the appellate court's space in the old courthouse was "grossly inadequate" before he joined the bench in 1993.

When Judge Cheryl L. Waite became the fourth judge of the 7th District in 1996, space was so limited that her clerk was forced to put his desk in a hallway, where he had no telephone access.

"We were in the space of one common pleas judge," she said. That was only about one-third of the space they will enjoy in the new two-story, 13,500-square-foot courthouse.

Its design was influenced by the consensus of the appellate judges, including Judges Joseph J. Vukovich and Mary DeGenaro. They conferred with local architect Gregg Strollo, who took their concerns into consideration before launching a location search that ultimately took about four years, Judge Donofrio said.

The new courtroom is smaller than what they had used, with reason. The former courtroom was so big, and its adjoining office space so limited, that carrels were made for the judges' staff attorneys around the courtroom's perimeter. That wasn't conducive to research, Judge Waite said.

The new courthouse has dedicated research space and individual offices for staff attorneys, so the courtroom will be used only for hearings.

The appellate court will launch a mediation program, now that it will have space to do so. At least half of appeals court districts offer mediation, which is most successful immediately after cases have been filed and before parties spend additional money, Judge Donofrio said.

Other features

Student interns will share an office that was created in case a fifth judgeship is created in the future, the judge said. Other features include a conference room, secured parking for judges, energy efficient lighting, modern wiring for today's computer technology and plenty of storage space for the court's files.

"We are still paper intensive," Judge Waite said.

The Mahoning County courthouse has marble stairwells, molded plaster ceilings and other effects that were too costly to duplicate. Judges looked for ways to give the new courthouse a dignified look that was less expensive. Judge Waite calls it "dignified but simple."

An artist is painting the names of counties in the 7th District -- Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning, Monroe and Noble. That was inspired by the county courthouse rotunda, where all 15 townships in Mahoning County are named.

The judges' courtroom chairs are believed to be as old as the 7th District, Judge Waite said.

Plain ceiling tiles were installed in their offices, but a patterned ceiling tile was used in the courtroom to give it a more traditional feeling, Judge Waite said.

Local cabinetmaker Andre Silver designed the benches and tables for the courtroom.

Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. supervised the $3.5 million courthouse construction project. Robert Budinsky, the appellate court's administrator, did extra duty as construction facilitator, the judges said.

By spreading the building's debt service over 30 years, the cost of the new courthouse is not much more than what each court currently pays for its operations, Judge Donofrio said. Mahoning County picks up 43 percent of the appellate court's operational costs. The other seven counties contribute remaining funds on a per-capita basis, Budinsky said.

shaulis@vindy.com




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